ETF Market Price vs. ETF Net Asset Value: What's the Difference?

ETF Market Price vs. ETF Net Asset Value: An Overview

Unlike mutual funds which may price their shares on a weekly, quarterly, or annual basis, exchange-traded funds (ETF) will price daily. So how are they priced, and what is the difference between market price and net asset value (NAV)?

Key Takeaways

  • The ETF market price is the price at which shares in the ETF can be bought or sold on the exchanges during trading hours.
  • The net asset value (NAV) of an ETF represents the value of each share’s portion of the fund’s underlying assets and cash at the end of the trading day.
  • The NAV is determined by adding up the value of all assets in the fund, including assets and cash, subtracting any liabilities, and then dividing that value by the number of outstanding shares in the ETF.
  • Due to intra-day changes in supply and demand, the ETF market price and ETF NAV may slightly differ.
  • Redemption mechanisms create arbitrage opportunities that price discrepancies between the two are kept at a minimum.

ETF Market Price

An exchange-traded fund's market price is the price at which shares in the ETF can be currently be bought or sold on exchanges during trading hours. Because ETFs trade like shares of stocks listed on exchanges, the market price will fluctuate throughout the day as buyers and sellers interact with one another and execute trades. If more buyers than sellers arise, the price will generally rise in the market. If more sellers than buyers are present, the price will generally decline.

ETF Net Asset Value

The net asset value (NAV) of an ETF represents the value of each share’s portion of the fund’s underlying assets and cash at the end of the trading day. ETFs calculate the NAV at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time after the markets close.

Net Asset Value Formula

The NAV is determined by subtracting any liabilities from the value of all assets in the fund including assets and cash. Then, divide the remainder by the number of outstanding shares in the ETF.


NAV of an ETF = ( Sum of All Assets Including Cash - All Liabilities ) / Number of Shares Outstanding

The NAV is used to compare the performance of different funds as well as report dollar figures for accounting purposes. The ETF also releases its current daily holdings, amount of cash, outstanding shares, and accrued dividends, if applicable. For investors, ETFs have the advantage of being more transparent. Mutual funds and closed-end funds are not required to disclose their daily holdings. In fact, mutual funds usually disclose their holdings only quarterly.

Key Differences

There may be differences between the market closing price for the ETF and the NAV. However, any deviations should be relatively minor. This is due to the redemption mechanism used by ETFs. Redemption mechanisms keep an ETF's market value and NAV value reasonably close.

The ETF uses an authorized participant (AP) to form creation units. For an ETF tracking the S&P 500, an AP would form a creation unit of shares in all the S&P 500 companies in a weighting equal to that of the underlying index. The AP would then transfer the creation unit to the ETF provider on an equal NAV value basis. In return, the AP would receive a similarly valued block of shares in the ETF. The AP can then sell those shares in the open market. The creation units are usually anywhere from 25,000 to 600,000 shares of the ETF. 

International Markets

The ETF price and ETF NAV may differ due to international markets being open at different times. Imagine an ETF domiciled in one country that is comprised of companies from around the world. As the ETF is exchanged during open trading hours, the underlying shares listed are part of a different market that may be closed at that time.

This redemption mechanism helps keep the market and NAV values close. The AP can easily arbitrage any discrepancies between the market value and the NAV during the course of the trading day, while the ETF shares' market value naturally fluctuates during the trading day. If the market value gets too high compared to the NAV, the AP can step in and buy the ETF's underlying constituent components while simultaneously selling ETF shares.

Alternatively, the AP can buy the ETF shares and sell the underlying components if the ETF market value gets too far below the NAV. These opportunities can provide a quick and relatively risk-free profit for the AP while also keeping the values close together. There may be multiple APs for a single ETF, ensuring that more than one party can step into arbitrage away any price discrepancies.

Why Can an ETF's Market Price Differ From the NAV?

Due to changes in the supply or demand for an ETF at any single point in time, the price of an ETF may deviate from the NAV of the ETF. If the fund is in high demand with low supply, the market price will typically exceed the NAV. If the fund has a high supply with little demand, the NAV will generally be higher.

How Is the NAV of an ETF Calculated?

The NAV of an ETF is calculated by summing all assets, subtracting all liabilities, and dividing the this difference by the number of shares outstanding.


NAV of an ETF = ( Sum of All Assets Including Cash - All Liabilities ) / Number of Shares Outstanding

What Is the Main Difference Between Market Price and NAV?

The ETF market price is the price the ETF can be bought or sold on exchanges during trading hours. The NAV is the closing price and value of each ETF holding based on the share's portion of the fund's assets at the end of the trading day.

Article Sources
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  1. Bloomberg Professional Services. "Challenges in ETF NAV Trading."

  2. Seth Anderson, Jeffery A. Born, and Oliver Schnusenberg. "Closed-End Funds, Exchange-Traded Funds, and Hedge Funds: Origins, Functions, and Literature," Page 78. Springer Science & Business Media, 2009.

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